Imposter syndrome can be a prevalent force in all areas of your life but especially when you attempt a big project, try to do something new or show your work publicly. Writing a book combines these three things and so creates fertile ground for imposter syndrome to thrive.
You may have a strong desire to write a book, in particular, a non-fiction book, but are not sure if you should because, really, who are you to write a book about that topic? After all, you are not an expert in that field, you simply have an interest or some experience in it. Do you actually know enough to write a whole book? There seems to be tons of books on that subject so does the world need your book as well?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines imposter syndromeas ‘the feeling that your achievements are not real or that you do not deserve praise or success’. This is not a diagnosable mental disorder (phew!) but simply a very common phenomenon, especially amongst writers.
Imposter syndrome, if left unchecked, will STOP you from writing a book, especially a non-fiction book. It will tell you that what you actually know would fill a grocery list, not an entire book. Or it may keep you in the research phase by convincing you that you must read yet another book on the topic. At its extreme, it can make you believe that readers will only find you a credible author on the topic if you have letters after your name.
The best way to shake off imposter syndrome is to expose the things it tells us as complete fabrication.
Here are three main imposter syndrome lies, plus the flipside truths, that will help you to write your non-fiction book.
1) Lie No.1: ‘You Need to be an Expert’
Letting yourself believe you need to be an ‘expert’ is a good way of NEVER writing that book. It is almost impossible to overcome as what defines an ‘expert’ in a field is hard to pin down. Read ten books? Have business expertise in that area? Received a doctorate in the subject?
Here is the truth – many readers do NOT want to be told what to do by an expert. They actually prefer to read a book by someone who either has a passionate interest in a topic or has been there, done that. Or both. They want to know the best and latest advice from someone in the trenches. And a lot of the time they actually prefer instruction from someone just a couple of rungs on the ladder ahead of them than some expert who is up in the stratosphere and who may not remember what it was like at day one.
When I wrote a book on potty training, I had potty-trained exactly one child. That did not make me an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but boy did I know a substantial amount on a subject that a few months previously I had known nothing about.
Pro tip: if you are worried that your knowledge on a subject is not enough then survey a few people who have experience in that area. I surveyed a number of parents and their potty training tips and stories added a breadth to the book that it would not have had just with my experience. A lot of the time, the knowledge from a few people trumps the depth of wisdom from just one expert.
2) Lie No.2: ‘More Research is Required’
Imposter syndrome allows you to legitimately flail around in the research phase for a non-fiction book for weeks, months or even years. When do you know ‘enough’ to write your book? Like being an expert, needing to do ‘more research’ is too vague a requirement and may mean you never actually write the darn book.
Here is the truth – you know WAY more than you think you do on the topic. A good way to test this is a timed mind map exercise. Grab a timer, a large sheet of paper and some pens and give yourself 20 minutes to mind map everything you can think of for the book you want to write. Do not do anything else for the full 20 minutes. You will be amazed how much pours out of you. Most writers, when they do this exercise, actually find they have so much knowledge to share it could cover a whole series of books, not just one.
It is said that if you read three books on a topic, you are already an ‘expert’. What this means is if you read three books in one subject, you are likely to know more about the matter than 90% of the population. This helps me to decide when my research phase is over. Have I read at least three books? Yes? Then let’s get writing.
Due to imposter syndrome I stopped writing the potty training book after a very rough first draft and got eight more potty training books out of the library and read them all. NO one should EVER read eight books on potty training, and especially not in the middle of writing a book. Do your research beforehand and trust you know your topic.
Pro tip: give yourself no longer than a month for research. What you do not find out in a month invested in one topic is probably not worth putting into a book.
3) Lie No. 3: ‘There are Already Enough Books on That Topic’
No matter how many books there are on a subject, your book will add something new to the mix. Your advice will be written in a different way, your voice will be different and your way of looking at the subject will produce patterns and insights not directly encountered before.
Here is the truth – a particular reader will pick up something from your book that he does not garner from any other books on the topic. You will speak to a reader that compels her to take action in a way another book does not. If you don’t write your book, the perfect book for that particular reader may never be available.
After reading a number of books on potty training, I knew I HAD to publish my book, even though there were over 400 books on potty training on Amazon alone. I did this in the hope that a reader would choose my book over some of the other books out there that gave incorrect and even possibly harmful advice.
Pro tip: Never look at how many books there are on a subject before you write your book. Write the book you want to write and add it to the mix of similar books. Know that your book will be the most valuable one for your ideal reader.
Shake It Off
Imposter syndrome lies can prevent you from starting your non-fiction book project by telling you that you need to be an expert, keeping you in a research rabbit hole or convincing you that there are enough books on your given topic.
Please don’t let imposter syndrome stop you from writing that non-fiction book. Be honest about who you are, do your research and write a darn good book. Your perfect reader will appreciate you for your efforts.
Originally published on The Creative Penn blog in July 2018 under the title ‘How To Shake Off Imposter Syndrome And Write Your Non-Fiction Book’. Check out the orignally blog post here: